I recently had the opportunity to offer some presentation coaching with a client - Trina - who spent her day delivering statistical training. Her area of speciality was 'imputation', which looks at how you estimate certain numbers. As you could imagine, you could make the topic very dry and boring without even trying!
As I watched Trina deliver her training, I noticed that the people in the room were actually becoming involved and excited (well OK - Just involved) in what was being presented. Granted the participants were interested in the information, but lets face it, this was the fourth day of a full week of advanced statistical training! People were bound to be tired and over it. Why were these people so interested?
At the end of the training, Trina came up to me and apologised for all the things that she did wrong, and wished that she could do better. She said this was whyshe needed public speaking coaching. She apologised for holding her notes while she spoke, apologised for being nervous and apologised for being genuinely excited about the topic when no-one else was. What she did not realise was that her excitement for the topic was what made her so successful at her job.
Her enthusiasm for her topic was evident from the start. She told the participants that she was genuinely excited about the statistical Normal Curve, and what could be achieved by understanding it. She told stories of how her last employer ignored the normal curve, and how it cost them dearly. She showed the participants how they could follow the rules and avoid the same dire consequences. This is what involve the audience.
It was her enthusiasm for the subject that really entertained the audience. She was excited, and happy to be training and the carried her through and the audience through what was at times very tough and tedious learning
The fact that she held her notes, was no real distraction. The audience knew it was a technical presentation, and knew there was a lot of information to be presented, and understood that it would have been difficult to present off the top of your head. I gave her a few pointers on how to reduce the number of notes. She had several pages of the notes she was using. These were primarily be PowerPoint slides she was talking to. She could have made these notes are more useful to her by reducing the amount that she wrote on them. Simple bullet points instead of full sentences would have helped her.
She also would have been better do not read the slides verbatim. Many public speaking articles have been written about how to use PowerPoint properly. They all suggest that you should not read what is on the slides as it simply distracts the audience. In fact, there is some research coming out of the University of New South Wales suggesting that reading the slides at the same time as people listening to you and reading them reduces the amount that they take in. This is due to cognitive overload. Our brain can only do so much at once and if we have to listen and read the same stuff, we will not taken as much information.
So yes it is possible to make statistics interesting! If Trina could make statistics interesting, can't you make you all topic interesting? How do you do this? Follow Trina's example: be excited about your topic; have stories relate to your topic; & show how the stories relate to your audience.
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